Rides

First Ride Review: Kawasaki Vulcan S

Kawasaki yet again dips its toes in the cruiser segment with a familiar heart


There were many great aspects to the Ninja 650’s success in the country which bode well for Kawasaki. The parallel-twin motor helped keeping costs in check as well as performing brilliantly on almost all accounts when asked of it. It paved the way for larger cubic capacity motorcycles in India. Thus it comes as no surprises that Kawasaki decided to bring a cruiser with the same motor to the country. Welcome the Kawasaki Vulcan S.

All new?

The Vulcan S is Kawasaki’s second attempt at cruiser motorcycles in India after the Eliminator, which has been rebadged since and now become an important motorcycle for Bajaj Auto. It shares the motor and suspension bits from the previous generation of the Ninja 650, much like the Versys 650. Thus, what you are getting is a quick, reliable, capable motorcycle in a cruiser façade.

The motorcycle aims to have a brutish stance with the overdose of the colour black. The headlamp unit seems to have been an inspiration for the current gen Bajaj Avenger series, making it hard to distinguish the two units alone. The mini-ape handers have been arched inwards making it a bit uncomfortable in tricky slow speed situations, especially if you are large in proportions. The single roundel cluster has been lifted off the deceased ER-6N. Every ounce of data is digitally displayed barring the tacho which still, thankfully, has a needle to indicate the revs. Kawasaki has provided the Vulcan with the adjustable levers.

The 14-litre fuel tank is bulbous and is still considerable wide near the seating area. You are perched quite low (705mm) and you will inadvertently end up scraping the end-can as it has a low ground clearance of only 130mm. The extremely forward set footpegs are ideal for the cruiser riding stance.

I do want to mention the drop in quality levels when it comes to the Vulcan. Kawasaki has always set high standards when it came to vehicle build quality and finish. Thus, small bits and bobs on the motorcycle let those creds down. The rear brake pedal seems to have been taken off an everyday commuter motorcycle. This may just be but I found the rider seat stitching is just irritating. The seat foam is extremely soft and that means that my butt would just sink in, leaving no further cushioning material to absorb road undulations.

What else?

You get a new chassis of course. The steel perimeter frame is raked out at 31 degrees. The 41mm dia conventional forks as well as the off-set monoshock setup is near identical to that of the old Ninja. As you would expect from a cruiser of this segment, the ride is supple. It also gets an 18-inch front wheel, unlike the 17 incher found on the Ninja. The rear remains unchanged. The resultant laden weight now tips the scales at 235 kilos which is nearly 20 kilos heavier than the old Ninja 650. The extra flab is evident when you start off as well as when one goes around bends.

Same old heart

As previously mentioned, the Vulcan gets the old spec 649cc liquid cooled parallel twin DOHC engine with the dual 38mm throttle bodies. It has been tuned differently, not drastically though. The motor here makes 60 ponies instead of the 70 on the Ninja. The torque figure too has dropped by a single unit to 63Nm. These peak performance numbers are made lower down the rev range to suit the motorcycle’s cruiser ambitions. That being said, the Vulcan still does not come alive until the needle crosses the 3500 rpm mark. The engine continues to run the same 6-speed gearbox which optimise the mid-to-high range performance of the Vulcan.

There were on-off throttle snatchiness issues that came to the fore on the old Ninja 650 and the Vulcan has inherited the same. While throttle operation is smooth altogether, I would have liked the throttle transitions to be jerk-free as well. Having experienced the new 650 motor, I feel disheartened by this move on Kawasaki’s part to continue to operate the old engine still. Thus, it also misses out on the slipper clutch, which would come in handy during our difficult traffic situations. The exhaust note is quite dull, as expected from a parallel-twin.

Fun?

If you are not too bothered by hitting apexes and would much rather munch miles, the Vulcan is a perfect tool for the job. Open the taps and the Vulcan begins to make little of distances with ease. The motorcycle reaches triple digit speeds effortlessly, being stable throughout the ordeal.

She does feel sluggish when changing lanes. In case one does have to negotiate bends, the Vulcan goes round them smoothly, taking its own sweet time. She takes time to tip in but there on there is no room for complaining. I have criticised the Dunlops on multiple counts but here they do a great job of keeping the bike on track, not sending the rear in a tizzy at corner exits.

There is just a single 300mm rotor with a dual-piston caliper providing retardation for the Vulcan, no double disc setup like the Ninja. Even on the rear wheel, you get a single-piston caliper with a 250mm disc and not the 220mm twin-piston setup of the Ninja. On paper, this may seem to be a step down but given the motorcycle’s characteristics, the setup does not pose any problems. The bite offered is sharp with adequate feedback on the lever. While there is the extra safety blanket provided by the availability of ABS, I never felt the system kicking in to help me out.

Verdict

Kawasaki have a knack to continue to surprise us on all counts, be it positive or otherwise. The Vulcan S has been a well packaged middleweight cruiser and one should seriously consider it if they seek to head out to tour the country. The obstacle in its path will be the Harley-Davidson Street 750, the segment creator. The Harley offers nearly the same package, if not more, at a cheaper price point, retailing at Rs. 5.25 lakh to the Vulcan’s pricing of Rs. 5.44 lakh, both prices ex-showroom Delhi. The split between Kawasaki and Bajaj Auto has reflected in dip in the Japanese manufacturer’s appeal in the country with the lack of dealerships as well as service outlets being a major chink in Kawasaki’s armour. I hope that Kawasaki bounces back to solve these issues at the earliest as they have a good product that could give the Harley a serious run for its money.


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